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66 | WATER WORDS |Maneesha Chawla

Thirst for development A

bout a year ago, on a fl ight coming into Delhi, delayed, I circled over Gurgaon. Out the

window I saw familiar landmarks. What took me by surprise, though, was the incredible, swirling, tornado-type dust cloud that hung above Gurgaon. There were no reports of reduced visibility from the fl ight deck and yet here we were circling over a dense mass that was completely man made.

The image of a heaving, wheezing

Gurgaon fi ghting to take shape is etched in my mind. Recently, I entered the plush 2-story parking lot where I lived, to fi nd a tank of water being emptied into the sewage drains. I asked the uniformed man there what was going on, he informed me that the buildings’ tanks were full of water and the weekly water tanker for that building was due imminently. He was making room for the new tank of water, by fl ushing away what was already there! And that dear reader is Gurgaon in a nutshell. A place where we lack ground water, where laws require rainwater harvesting and then leave it to the builders to regulate as they ‘see fi t’. A place where the once rich soil is turning arid, having made its farmers rich. A recent article in the New Indian Express outlines how the real estate sector has been hard hit by the lack of water; as is usually the case, rising costs are passed on to the buyers. During construction there is a severe shortage of water and work is slowed down due to it. Although water adds to the struggle of building high rises, once the buildings are completed and handed over, the issue is passed on to the occupants. Where will the water come from? Deepak Gahlowt, proprietor of

Xebec Designs, speaks of some ways in which water conservation can happen but warns that the way it’s currently done is laying the groundwork for a crisis in the future.

“Water is a major issue waiting to happen. Right now there is still water out there – more or less – so all this talk of rainwater harvesting is only to act like we are future planning and being ‘green’. Sadly, there are not many good examples in India of good water conservation in the residential segment and those that exist are very few.” He hopes the successes in the hotel sector can be taken up by other sectors Gahlowt says a traditional and less

used method of storing rainwater is in a family courtyard tank, making it available for later use. The reality of space constraints coupled with needing massive tanks to support the numerous residents of high rises make us skeptical though. Another method is rainwater harvesting. It is the law to follow such practices but most condominiums don’t regularly clean or maintain the pits. This results in water logging (apparent on most roads in India during the monsoon). Rainwater replenishment is more viable but few have committed to the practice, as it’s not actually required by law. Instead of the water running into a specifi ed area, the water tables in the area are replenished in a more natural way through the use of greenery (which also reduces the pollutants in the water). This has been so successfully done in Seattle that the local government has published a paper on how to replicate the process. Just like Seattle, the

process should be tackled at a city wide or municipal level, rather than by individual builders.

Separate sewage treatment plants (STPs) dedicated to each location, offer much promise if they are promoted in the right way. STPs allow for water that has already been used once to be re-used as sewage water. The process can reduce water consumption by up to 70% and is a logical solution. Gahlowt believes that the way forward is for private companies

“Sadly there are not many examples in India of good water conservation in the residential segment”

to be encouraged to set up such water treatment plants, thus reducing the strain on a limited resource. By privatizing STPs, players will have more interest in making them work. As long as the builder passes the cost

on and government legislation remains lacking, it doesn’t look like much is going to change. Shivani Manaktala, a development consultant at the ministry for housing and urban poverty


In much of the developed world, we take water for granted. In India, it’s not so simple. Sometimes there is too much, sometimes there is too little – and whatever the problem, you can expect Indian ingenuity and ‘special’ Indian logic to fi nd a solution. Maneesha Chawla looks at the use of water in Indian developments

alleviation, says that the only way forward is water meters. “People need to pay for their consumption in order to create a real value and appreciation for what they have. It makes no sense that water use in Gurgaon is free.” She agrees with many of the recommendations expounded by conservationists worldwide – but if the government is not regulating matters, then there is very little chance of controlling the issue. On a micro level builders can move

away from, say, golf courses, to more indigenous landscaping that require a fraction of the water. Likewise, toilet tanks that use lower volumes of water should be made mandatory. Even taps and showerheads that reduce consumption play their role, especially when you think of how many taps and showerheads are fi tted by each developer in each of their projects. Such a simple change could make a real dent. So while builders turn a blind eye to

the issue at hand, they are not entirely to blame. Why would they highlight an issue that will only drive their costs up further? While it would be the responsible thing to do, it’s not the most cost effective course of action. A bit of future planning by the government will see our resources lasting much longer and maintain realistic costs before we hit crisis mode. Sadly our government seems too intent on pandering for votes with the builder community to actually tackle such issues.

Water worries | the industry has been hard hit by the lack of water

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